It’s too bad that gac doesn’t taste as interesting as it looks. The bright-orange, dodgeball-sized fruit has short spikes, and cutting into it feels like butchering meat: The firm orange rind gives way to a slimy, blood-red pulp that looks like internal organs. Those brave enough to reach inside—and pull out a glistening membranous sack—will find large, flat seeds that resemble wooden turtles.
Unfortunately, gac fruit is almost entirely flavorless and has only a faint, fatty vegetable taste. But other attributes ensure its popularity. The fruit is most commonly consumed in Vietnam, where its flesh and seeds are used to make xôi gấc, a red sticky rice eaten during weddings and special occasions. The dish is most associated with Tet (Vietnamese New Year), when its red color is interpreted as a good luck symbol. In Thailand, the occasional roadside vendor sells gac juice, often blended with other fruits to give it more flavor.
In addition to its striking, lucky color, gac boasts a number of health benefits. Its flesh has more beta-carotene than carrots, which helps explain its use in natural supplements. In China, the seeds are called mù biē zǐ (wood turtle seeds) and are used in traditional medicine for ailments such as swelling and sores. Still, the fruit’s most guaranteed result is enlivening the color of your dishes and drinks. They’ll definitely look interesting.
Need to Know
Gac only fruits for a few months out of the year, so it’s easiest to find in December and January. It's known by various names throughout Southeast Asia. Ripe fruits should be dark orange.